Sciatica is a kind of discomfort in the back of the leg that is quite common. According to publisher StatPearls, lifetime incidence (i.e., the proportion of people who will experience it at least once during their life) of sciatica ranges from 10 percent to 40 percent. Annual incidence is also high at 1 percent to 5 percent. In other words, a lot of people will find themselves wondering at some point what’s the best way to get rid of sciatic nerve pain.
When people begin to experience sciatica’s distinctive discomfort, they often find themselves taken aback by the treatment options they read about online. Sometimes experts recommend treatment options such as steroid injections; medications such as oral steroids, anti-inflammatory medications, narcotics, muscle relaxants, and antidepressants; and sometimes even surgeries. Fortunately, in many cases, less intense therapies can help immensely, and one of these is sciatica stretches. In this post, we will discuss how stretches can alleviate discomfort stemming from sciatica, which sciatica exercises to avoid, and sciatica stretches for elderly patients.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica does not describe a specific illness or disease, but rather a symptom of a number of disease processes. The sciatic nerve originates as the nerves exit the final section of the spinal column, and then travels down each buttock and thigh, and ends at the knee where the nerve divides into smaller nerves that travel to the foot. Since the nerve is lengthy and any number of conditions can impact it, very different underlying causes may lead to sciatic pain. Some of these include spinal disc herniation (the rupture of a spinal disc), spinal stenosis (the internal narrowing of your spinal canal), rheumatoid arthritis (an inflammatory autoimmune disease), and spondylolisthesis (a condition where one vertebrae slips down onto the one below it). Many of these conditions require surgery and/or ongoing medication to effectively treat. Sufferers sometimes describe the sensation as sharp, stabbing, electrical, or a burning numbness.
However, not every condition that results in sciatica symptoms has an incredibly serious origin. Some common things that can cause sciatica include:
- Piriformis Syndrome
- Muscle Spasms
- Physical Trauma
- Engaging in Sedentary Behavior
For these types of cases (and even for some that are caused by structural issues), sciatica stretches can help.
Why Are Stretches Important to Relieve Pain from Sciatica?
People who are looking to cure sciatica permanently may express skepticism upon hearing that stretches really can help. They may even wonder how stretching works. It’s important to first understand that sciatica can be a multifaceted ailment, arising from nerve impingement that can happen due to a large number of causes. When it works, stretching may address many of these potential causes at once. These can include:
- Improved muscle strength
- Greater flexibility
- Improved range of movement
- Minimize nerve impingement by manipulating soft tissues in specific ways
Addressing sciatica discomfort should always start in the most conservative way possible, and stretches are one of the most conservative treatments available. Although performing such exercises under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist can help, virtually all patients can perform them on their own and with minimal equipment. Finally, not only can these stretches alleviate sciatica pain, they may also generally improve a patient’s overall quality of life.
Can Stretching Irritate Sciatica?
Despite the potential benefits of stretching, understand that it isn’t some sort of panacea. A number of the underlying conditions listed above require more extensive medical intervention and simply won’t respond to physical manipulation. What’s more, certain stretches can actually exacerbate your sciatica, significantly increasing your pain. Some of the exercises you should avoid are motions that can lead to spinal disc herniation if performed without proper form (e.g. bent-over rows or dead-lifts)
Additionally, you should take your general overall fitness level into account prior to beginning a stretching regime. Are you a generally active individual who has suddenly started experiencing discomfort due to overexertion? Then you can likely attempt any number of stretches. But if you find yourself carrying a large amount of weight, you will want to approach any stretching plan with care.
What Stretches Provide Relief from Sciatica?
Common sciatica stretches have a handful of shared goals. These include 1) strengthening core muscles; 2) increasing flexibility throughout the hips and legs; and 3) stabilizing the lower back. With those goals in mind, some worthwhile sciatica stretches include:
- Standing Piriformis Stretch
- Supine Piriformis Mobility Stretch (aka, Eye of the Needle Pose)
- Sitting Piriformis Stretch
- Seated Spinal Stretch
- Sciatic Nerve Flossing
- Reclining Pigeon Pose
- Upward Dog/Cobra
- Cat and Cow
- Side Plank
- Half Moon
Maintaining proper form matters with these exercises. If you feel unsure as to whether or not you’re performing them correctly or if you experience undue discomfort, seek the help of a physical therapist, personal trainer, or other professional.
Other Sciatica Treatments You Should Try
Stretching is only one thing you can do to help alleviate your sciatica pain. Other activities and actions may also help. As far as immediate discomfort goes, consider taking over-the-counter medications such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve, or Naprosyn, making sure to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Additionally, alternating applications of hot and cold packs to the affected areas can provide some relief.
Other physical activities you can attempt include maintaining a generally active lifestyle. This may involve taking regular walks, beginning a sport or similar group activity, and continuing to develop and maintain your muscle tone.
How to keep sciatica from coming back?
Because sciatica originates from anything in your body impinging your sciatic nerve, the best way to avoid having a sciatica flare up is to manage that impingement. In addition to the stretches and treatments listed above, the most significant steps you can take involve caring for your body. This means:
- Maintaining a Healthy Weight
- Ceasing Smoking
- Supplementing with Vitamins D, E, B6, and B12, Zinc, Magnesium, Fish Oil, and Selenium
- Getting Enough Sleep Each and Every Night
If you’re struggling to manage your sciatica pain, contact or call us at (847) 628-8147 to learn how we can help. The doctors at The Spine Center have over five decades of combined experience, and we all want to help our patients function to the best of their ability and to enjoy as pain free a life as possible.